Apple's Ailing CEO Takes 6-Month Leave

Apple's CEO Steve Jobs is taking medical leave through June. The computer giant's co-founder said he has already begun treatment. The announcement came just a week after the 53-year-old cancer survivor tried to assure investors and employees his recent weight loss was caused by a treatable hormone deficiency.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

After months of speculation about his health, Steve Jobs announced he's taking a leave of absence from Apple. As soon as the news came out, Apple's stock went down. Perhaps more than any other major company, Apple's success is seen as linked to the fate of its CEO. NPR's Laura Sydell looks at the impact this development is likely to have on the company.

LAURA SYDELL: To some, Steve Jobs is like a rock star. His company's products have opened up new forms of creativity in communication all over the world - the iPod, the iPhone, the iMac, the MacBook. For nearly a decade, Jobs' appearances at the Macworld trade show in San Francisco set off weeks of speculation about what new gadget he might announce. But when he didn't appear at Macworld this year, the speculation focused on his health.

A few months ago, he appeared in public looking gaunt and ill. In 2004, Jobs had been diagnosed and treated for pancreatic cancer. Rumors began to churn that his cancer had returned. Initially, Jobs dismissed these rumors and said his health was under control, until yesterday when he announced he was taking a six-month leave of absence. Leander Kahney, the news editor of Wire.com and the author of a biography of Jobs called "Inside Steve's Brain," found the announcement troubling.

Mr. LEANDER KAHNEY (News Editor, Wire.com; Author, "Inside Steve's Brain"): He declares that, you know, what he has is more complicated than he previously thought. Unfortunately, you know, I just - I feel that we're being lied to, or we're not getting the full story. And I know I'm definitely not alone. Everyone else certainly feels like this.

SYDELL: Kahney attributes Jobs' reticence to his desire to keep his personal life private. He doesn't like to talk about his family or children. But Kahney says when you are running a large public corporation, it creates problems, especially when you are as connected to the company as Jobs is to Apple.

Mr. KAHNEY: So, he has a, you know, a duty to be forthcoming about this. And of course, the more cryptic he is, the more speculation he invites.

SYDELL: As private as Jobs is, he was very public in his role as CEO of Apple. He seemed to relish making announcements about the latest Apple innovations. He would take the stage in his trademark black turtleneck and jeans, and announce new products. Then just as it looked like he was leaving the stage, he would turn around and say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEVE JOBS (CEO, Apple): But we do have one more thing today, one more thing.

SYDELL: And with that shtick, he would then announce the really big product, like the iPod. Well over a hundred million have been sold since it was introduced in 2001. Bob Lefsetz writes a widely read newsletter about the music industry.

Mr. BOB LEFSETZ (Author, The Lefsetz Letter): He made music completely portable. What could be better than that? Music is the elixir of life, and he made it so everyone could have it.

SYDELL: Many credit Jobs with turning Apple around. It was on the brink of bankruptcy when he returned to the helm in 1997. Since then Apple has produced hit after hit after hit. If Jobs is gone, what will it mean? Well, if it's really only six months, analysts think the company will be fine. Michael McGuire, an analyst with Gartner, says Jobs has brought in and trained managers himself to run the company's various divisions.

Mr. MICHEL MCGUIRE (Analyst, Gartner): One of the things that he often doesn't get a lot of credit for because he's always positioned by the press as the all knowing, all seeing omnipotent Steve at Apple is he's pulled together some pretty good managers to run these groups.

SYDELL: But it is possible that Jobs' leave of absence could turn out to be permanent, in which case no one can predict whether the company he has molded in his image really will be able to step into his shoes. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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